Games of the Decade (2010-2019)

Compared to other rankings, the "games of the decade" one makes for a weird list. A year is a small enough chunk of time where everything is pretty manageable and comparable, while a generation collects games together based on their shared hardware limitations. A decade, however, spans both more time and more hardware than either metric, and the beginning and end are marked only by our somewhat arbitrary base-ten number system. That serves to make this list itself feel even more arbitrary than your average rankings list, but such arbitrary restrictions are part of the fun, right?

This is my stab at the latest list-making trend, and includes my 25 favorite video games released in North America between January 1, 2010 and December 31, 2019. It covers an eclectic mix of games from many different genres, budgets, hardware platforms, and periods of design trends. Which, as initially stated, makes for a weird list. But it's also a list of 25 amazing games that I have a lot of fondness for, many of which I'd place among my all-time favorites. A decade is a long time, which affords it a lot (seriously, a lot) of great games. These are my favorite 25 among them.

Two quick notes before we get started. First, I tried my best to order these games by preference, but when ordering the best of the best, the margins are incredibly slim. So don’t put too much stock in the exact order; it’s all in the ballpark. Second, while I could easily write countless more words on why I think every game here is as brilliant as it is, I elected to keep it (relatively) brief here. I’ve written about nearly all of them on this site before, and if you do want to know more, feel free to ask.

And with that, thanks for reading, and have a fantastic day!

List items

  • As an interactive medium, I often think of video games as verbs. One of my favorite verbs is “explore,” and this decade, Breath of the Wild emerged as possibly my favorite “explore” game I’ve ever played. This is a broken version of Hyrule, one that has been beaten down for 100 years, and your exploration reveals just how far it has fallen. You see monsters ravaging the land. You see people struggling to pick up the pieces and survive. You see immense death, decay, and ruin. But you also see so much beauty around the edges. You see gorgeous vistas with spectacular views, wondrous and majestic beings, and strong, optimistic people pushing forward. It’s a vast, diverse, and complete world with no shortage of striking things to see; it’s one of my favorite video game worlds to date. And the additional verbs involved -- climbing, observing, mapping, gliding -- make exploring this world highly rewarding for dozens and dozens of hours. When I think back on the decade that was, and what I look for in this medium of ours, there simply wasn’t a better version of “explore” than Breath of the Wild. For that, it sits here as my favorite game of the decade.

  • Into the Breach is as close to a “perfect” video game as I can imagine. One of its best traits is how it distills its ideas down to their purest essence; nothing is frivolous or wasted, and every move has clear and meaningful consequences. Yet it never feels watered down either. Instead, Into the Breach interlaces its simple systems in exceptionally smart ways to create stunning depth, and the result is an infinite puzzle generator I have yet to tire of solving. In its design, it’s one of the most elegant and beautiful games I've ever played, full of interesting problems that lead to exciting moments of triumph and disaster. I’ve never had a great answer to the “desert island” question, but with Into the Breach, the 2010s gave me perhaps my closest answer yet.

  • More than enough has been said about Dark Souls, by me and everyone else; the act of referencing Dark Souls is itself a meme at this point. Yet sitting here at the end of the decade, it’s impossible to look back and not see Dark Souls as one of the most influential and defining games of the 2010s. Few games have dominated “the discourse” so thoroughly, and that includes among game developers themselves. It had a clear impact on game design through the entire decade: games became more willing to challenge us, more willing to take risks, and ultimately became more diverse as a result of Dark Souls’ influence. It altered the course of the medium for the entire decade, and as a fan, I for one am glad it did.

  • A decade later, Mass Effect 2 still stands as one of the biggest steps towards realizing the dream of interactive fiction among video games I’ve played. Many games have great stories, great characters, and choices that affect their narrative in meaningful ways. But few of them pull it all together this well, much less in a cinematic action game that’s still fun to play in the ways games traditionally are. My journey with Mordin, Tali, Thane, and the rest of the gang is easily one of the most memorable I’ve ever been on, and holds a special place in my heart.

  • It’s difficult to remember a decade (and three games) later, but before 2010, StarCraft had been gone so long I wondered if it would ever return. Thankfully it did, and it delivered not only one of my favorite RTS campaigns, but also perhaps my favorite multiplayer game (from any genre) to date. StarCraft II's multiplayer dominated large parts of my decade, as I eagerly read patch notes, watched the pros, and spent hundreds of hours battling online. For someone who rarely plays multiplayer games at all, it’s hard to overstate how much of a mark StarCraft II left on me.

  • Doom is probably my favorite first-person shooter campaign I’ve ever played. That’s a bold claim I don’t make lightly, but this is a case study in great game design 101. It’s an incredibly smart and incredibly polished game where every facet of its design feels just right, and the action is top of its class. I couldn’t stop thinking about Doom for months after I finished it, and still can’t believe that a goofy game about fighting Hell demons on Mars is this good.

  • XCOM’s blend of strategic base-building and tactical skirmishes was a mesmerizing blend that fit right into my personal gaming preferences; not to mention a brilliant, modern reimagining of a classic game. My ironman classic run remains one of my most memorable gaming experiences of the decade, and the handful of close calls that nearly doomed my squad are moments I’ll never forget.

  • Three Houses, through its spectacular world-building and engaging simulation aspects, got me to care about its insanely huge cast of diverse characters more than Fire Emblem ever has. The way it weaved its narrative trappings within the (still solid) game design elevated one of my favorite franchises to new heights, and absolutely consumed my life for months.

  • The 2010s saw a resurgence of explorative 2D platformers in the indie space, but none of them pushed the experience as far as Hollow Knight. Between its exceptional world design, precise combat, and striking audiovisual presentation, Hollow Knight was an ambitious, high quality game that elevated a genre that can often feel derivative to bold new heights.

  • After a decade of making awesome, influential games, From Software capped off the 2010s with perhaps their most polished game yet. They focused in on tight, responsive swordplay centered around parrying, and the result is quite possibly my favorite melee combat in any game I’ve played. Its boss fights are truly incredible gameplay moments that will stick with for a long time.

  • Rogue-likes were one of the decade’s biggest trends, and Hades is the first (and so far only) one I’ve fallen in love with. It’s just good: the writing, music, art, combat, and powerups are all fantastic, run after run. Hades may still technically be in early access at the end of the decade, but based on how complete it already feels, it’s well on track to become something truly special.

  • The base Civilization V kicked off the decade, and then two excellent expansions continued to improve upon one of the best iterations of one of my favorite franchises. When all was said and done, Civ V proved to be a hearty, robust package with tons of smart tweaks to the classic formula, which made it easy to justify the dozens (hundreds?) of hours I spent playing it.

  • The Witness is one of the most fascinating games I played this decade. It is both a highly engaging puzzle game with countless smart touches and clever ideas, and also a very personal meditation on awareness and mindfulness. The way it all blends together is a powerful example of video games’ unique potential as an artistic medium, and one that really stuck with me.

  • Indie games came into their own this decade, and Bastion was the first one I played that offered a story-driven adventure as substantial as a full AAA game. It had gorgeous art, snappy combat, exciting weapons, a memorable story, and one of the best damn soundtracks I’ve ever heard. It’s a true gem that proved team size and budget are not as limiting as they once seemed.

  • Yes, I know the original Persona 4 came out before 2010. But my personal Persona 4 journey began with this decade’s remake, and playing it portably was a big part of the appeal. Hanging out with Chie, Yosuke, Yukiko, and the rest of the gang became a part of my daily life for months, no matter where I traveled, and my time with them is something I will always cherish.

  • Axiom Verge simultaneously nailed the formula for one of my favorite genres, and also layered in a ton of its own ideas to make it feel as fresh and as inventive as its inspirations were. The 2010s saw a lot of indie games tackle the classics, often modernizing or improving them in smart ways. Axiom Verge did that for Metroid, and as a Metroid fan, that was great to see.

  • If the 2010s were the decade that remakes and remasters became a standard practice, I can’t think of a better argument in their favor than Resident Evil 2. It gave such a big face lift to the original that it feels like a brand new, highly polished, modern game. It plays great, looks great, and packs a ton of fun alternate modes that kept me coming back time and again.

  • I had a solid month where I obsessed over Super Mario Maker. It sparked my imagination like few games have, and experimenting with all the fun creation tools it offered was an incredibly exciting time. Even better was sharing levels back and forth with friends, and also seeing what the endlessly creative community continued to come up with for years. What a cool thing.

  • Open world games were another one of the decade’s big trends, and Shadow of Mordor was one of my favorites among them. Not only was the nemesis system a brilliant idea that justified the inclusion of an open world more than most, but the core combat, stealth, and traversal mechanics felt more refined too. It was a high quality game on every front.

  • A Link Between Worlds is one of those games that I picked up, immediately devoured in its entirety, then never touched again. But I greatly enjoyed every single second of this extremely polished, smartly designed, and tightly paced game. Zelda began the decade on a big down note for me; this is the one that turned the franchise around again. It’s just a good game.

  • Unraveling the mysteries of Outer Wilds was a fascinating journey, enhanced by the freedom to go whichever direction I chose right from the start. It was a powerful example of the kind of self-guided exploration video games can offer, and the ensuing story of a species hellbent on preventing the utter collapse of the universe was surprisingly touching.

  • Look, I love rhythm games, I love video game music, and I especially love Final Fantasy music. So when you give me a solid rhythm game featuring 220+ of my favorite Final Fantasy songs, I’m all over it. Curtain Call may be pure fan service, but it gets fan service so right that I give it a pass. I gleefully tapped along to these songs for dozens of hours.

  • There was a LOT of Pokemon throughout the 2010s, but none of them reached the heights that X and Y did for me. That’s primarily due to some worthwhile tweaks to training competitive teams that got me hooked. Battling competitive Pokemon delivered some of my most memorable gaming moments of the decade; there’s nothing quite like it.

  • Remember the Wii? It was still a hot item when the decade began, and Super Mario Galaxy 2 was one of its last great games. It expanded on all the great concepts from its predecessor, and showcased countless excellent, creative levels. It’s easily among the best 3D platformers ever made, and was a fitting way to transition from the Wii into the new decade.

  • They finally got me to play 100+ hours of a Monster Hunter game, and it became one of my favorite online social games of the decade. I thoroughly enjoyed teaming up to hunt all these big, ridiculous monsters, and the core loop of planning for a hunt, executing the hunt with friends, and then crafting a piece of armor out of monster horns was a great time.